“Thought I told you I’d get to this in the morning,” he said.
“It is morning.”
Padding barefoot into the living room, he headed to the coffee table. Its big drawer had been dumped onto the floor. Crouching, he began tossing the things back inside.
He didn’t stop.
“This was my doing.” She caught his arm. “I’ve got this.”
His eyes held hers, not at all sleepy anymore, his muscles beneath her fingers corded. Warm. Then he went back to work. He finished the drawer and looked around, frowning when he saw the box of her pottery still scattered. He reached for the first piece, a miniature lion that she’d created last year, when she’d first come to Lucky Harbor. It represented courage. Her courage.
Luke stared down at the lion for a long moment, then very gently ran the pad of his finger over the mane. “It’s amazing. It looks so real.”
“You sculpted this?”
“Then painted it?”
She nodded again.
He looked at her collection of animals sprawled out carelessly, toppled over like carnage. “These must have taken you a long time.”
“Years.” She shrugged at his questioning gaze. “My mom used to work a lot of nights. After my sister would go to bed, sometimes I’d stay up.” Waiting for Mimi to come home. “It was something to do.”
“Each piece means something to you,” he said.
“What does this lion mean?”
“I made him when I first moved to Lucky Harbor.” She paused. “He’s my…roar.”
A small smile crossed his lips. “You already have courage in spades, Ali.” He grabbed a piece of the packing paper, then very carefully rolled up the lion as if it was the most precious thing in the world.
Ali opened her mouth, but then, unable to speak, closed it again.
Without another word or glance her way, as if he knew how painful this was for her, Luke reached for another piece of her pottery. An owl. He held it up to her.
“To remind me to try to be wise,” she said softly. “No stupid decisions.”
Okay, that hadn’t been exactly what she’d meant, but it didn’t matter. Her body was reacting to the way he’d said “sex,” and a shocking heat of arousal washed through her. She swallowed hard, but nodded.
Another smile. He rolled up the owl and set it carefully in the box with the lion. Over and over again with each piece, the whole time showing a respect for her things in a way the police hadn’t.
Ali never really expected much from the men in her life. That way it wasn’t a surprise when they didn’t come through. But Luke kept surprising her, and it was unexpected to say the least.
He was unexpected.
An hour later, dawn broke. Shortly after that, the sun slanted in the huge picture windows, casting them in gold. “Done,” Luke declared, tossing aside the broom in his hands.
They’d been quiet so long that she jumped. “The garage—”
“Was already a mess,” he said. “Leave it. Go to bed, Ali. Get some rest.”
She looked at the boxes and bags lined up in the hall. Her things.
His gaze followed hers. “You packed,” he said flatly.
“Where are you going?”
“The B and B,” she said. “Just until something pans out.”
He stepped closer. “Why?” he asked.
She took in the high angle of his cheekbones, his strong jaw, the column of his throat. His broad shoulders were stiff with tension. He was holding back, and it was costing him.
“Because…” His hands went to her hips. God, he was beautifully made, all tough, sinewy lines and smooth skin, which she knew would be heated to the touch. And oh, how she suddenly needed to touch. She lifted her hands to his chest. “Because…”
His eyes pinned her, his sheer force of personality making her go weak in the knees. And that wasn’t all. He wanted her. There was no question; the proof of it was pressing into her belly.
And at that realization, she got weak in a lot more places than just her knees. But she didn’t go weak for a man anymore, no matter how much she wanted to learn her way around his body and satisfy them both. Indulging herself—just for a minute—she let her hands roam.
Oh yeah, warm to the touch. Hot to the touch, really, his muscles smooth and hard. She could feel his heart beating beneath her hand, steady as a rock, flowing through her fingertips to mingle with her own pulse. He held himself very still, his big body just barely brushing hers. He didn’t want to take advantage, she knew that. Sweet.
Except he wasn’t sweet. And she wasn’t feeling so sweet either. She was feeling dangerous as she kissed one corner of his delicious mouth. And then the other. Just a taste, she promised herself. “I’m going,” she said, “because of this.” And then she kissed him again, not just a taste.
Beneath her fingers, his muscles jerked, but he didn’t make a move. That’s okay, she had her own moves. She skimmed her hands up, around his neck, into his silky hair, and then fisted it, pulling his head closer to hers.
With a rough groan, his hands tightened on her, thumbs splaying across her stomach, rubbing her own heated skin. Pulling back a fraction of an inch, he looked down at her, his gaze dark and full of desire. It was irresistible and so was the way he watched her, his body seeming to shudder when she pressed more closely against him.
And then he kissed her, his tongue tracing the curve of her lips until she allowed him entry. He hooked his fingers in the hem of her tank top, slowly drawing it up, exposing her inch by inch.
Dipping his head, he looked his fill. Drawing a long, serrated breath, he slowly traced the lines of her ribs with his fingertips before cupping the curves of her breasts.
She loved the way he seemed to tremble when he touched her. Or maybe that was her doing the trembling from the feel of his palms searing her skin. He had a way of driving every thought from her head. Everything, except for need.
And right then, in that moment, the only thing she needed was him. “Luke.”
Lowering his head, he put his mouth on her breast, taking the peak between his teeth, flicking it with his tongue before tugging gently.
He tightened his grip on her hair, and she cried out before she could stop herself.
“Stop me, Ali.”
Was he kidding? Her nails raked across his back for more, making him inhale sharply.
“You’re not ready for this,” he said against her skin. “For me.”
If she were any more ready, she’d be in flames. “Not your call, Luke.”
With another groan, he pressed his forehead to her shoulder. “Then I’m not ready for you,” he said. “I can’t give you what you want, Ali.”
“I don’t want anything.” But the magic spell was broken, and she stepped back, pulling her tank down, entangling her hands together to ensure she kept them off of him. “I’m going to go.”
He blew out a breath, and then shook his head. “The B and B is in high season. They’re charging tourist prices.”
She knew one of the owners; Maddie, the middle sister, came into the shop weekly to buy flowers for the inn. Ali thought she would give her a good deal, but he was right—it was still going to be out of her price range. “Fine,” she said, “I’ll go stay with my mom and commute from there.”
“Have you seen gas prices?” he asked. “That’s a stupid idea. And you’re not stupid.”
“Stop it, Luke.”
“I’m not staying here just because you suddenly feel sorry for me.”
“Okay, then stay so we can have wild, up-against-the-wall sex,” he said.
Her breath caught. She wasn’t even sure what wild-up-against-the-wall sex would feel like, but she had a feeling she’d like it. A lot. And yet she knew that he was merely trying to rile her up so she wouldn’t do something awful, like cry. “I’m not a pity case.”
“I don’t have the capacity for pity,” he said. “Hell, Ali, stay here because…I need you.”
Stunned, she stared up into his face, which was cast in granite. Apparently she’d met her match in stubbornness. “You need me,” she repeated doubtfully.
As if on cue, the phone rang, shattering the early morning quiet. He pointed to the phone and then to her. See? Need you. And then he vanished down the hall without another word.
The phone rang again.
Ali looked at it, weighing the price of the B&B along with the danger to her bank account against the price of staying here and endangering something even more fragile—her heart.
No contest on which decision would cost her the most. And yet she headed to the phone and used her apparently pent-up frustration getting rid of yet another reporter looking for Luke.
Zach showed up that afternoon in a suit that emphasized his beanpole body, a messenger bag strapped across his chest, and thick black-rimmed glasses on his nose. His jet-black hair was in spikes. His eyebrow piercing glittered as he scooped Ali in for a big hug.
Zach’s familiar ease faded when she introduced him to Luke. Oh, his warm chocolate eyes were friendly enough, but reserved, as the two men sized each other up.
Luke was his usual steely intense self as they shook hands, and Zach reverted to geeky awkwardness, though he maintained eye contact. Ali gave him credit for not peeing his pants.
“So you’re licensed in the state of Washington?” Luke asked him.
Ali gave him a long look. “Luke…”
“Yes,” Zach said, and pushed his glasses higher on his nose. “I’m licensed in Washington.”
“How many trial cases do you have under your belt?”
Ali grimaced. “Luke.”
“If Ali gets arrested, and if the case goes to trial,” Zach said, “this would be my first solo. But we both know even if it gets that far, as a first-time offender she might end up with restitution over time served. The record would be the worst part.”